Damian Dovarganes / AP
A high school student covers from the cold wind while waiting a a bus stop in Los Angeles on Thursday.
A chill has left California frozen in its tracks, stranding motorists on snowy roadways and keeping everyone close to the warmth of their heaters.
A low pressure trough descending over San Diego County and over parts of neighboring Orange County could keep nightly temperatures below the freezing point in coastal areas, the low deserts and inland valleys, threatening orange, avocado orchards and other sensitive plants, forecasters warned, reported The Associated Press. Friday and Saturday nights were expected to be the coldest nights.
Meanwhile, on the East Coast, as well as parts of the South and Midwest, a record warm 2012 was spilling over into the new year. Four Florida cities broke records for the month of January on Wednesday, weather.com reported, all with temperatures 85 degrees Fahrenheit or above. And on Thursday, in International Falls, Minn., the temperature climbed to 48 degrees, beating its previous record high for the day by seven degrees, according to weather.com.
Elsewhere across the country, Chicago and Detroit could reach highs in the 50s this weekend — weather that's typical for late March, weather.com reported. Temperatures in the 60s are forecast for Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis, average weather for the second week in April in those locations, meteorologists said.
In all, two dozen cities may break their daily record highs Friday, weather.com forecast. And 40 or more cities in the South and East may tie or break daily record highs Saturday, including Rochester, N.Y., Columbus, Ohio, and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
Those mild temperatures contrasted greatly to the Grapevine section of California's Interstate 5 — the crucial artery that links southern and northern California -- which shut down Thursday night, the AP reported. Heavy snow stranded motorists and truckers. Several accidents and spin-outs were reported before the California Highway Patrol closed the north-south route, NBCLosAngeles.com reported.
"We're still dealing with some icy and snowy conditions along the Grapevine," said NBCLosAngeles.com forecaster Elita Loresca. "We'll see some improvement in and around the Grapevine, but frost advisories and freeze watches will be posted again tonight and, once again, overnight Saturday into Sunday."
Elsewhere, strawberry growers covered their crops with soft cloth to protect them.
"These guys are going to be up all night watching thermometers," Eric Larson of the San Diego County Farm Bureau told The AP.
Freezing temperatures weren't the only weather challenge in Southern California: Forecasters say a combination of high tides, high surf and strong winds will bring minor flooding to low-lying areas of the coast. The weather service issued coastal flood advisories for all counties from San Luis Obispo south to San Diego through Saturday morning, reported The AP.
Farther north in Sonoma County, homeless shelters were handing out warm clothes to protect the least fortunate from below-freezing temperatures overnight, according to The AP.
Even workers at San Diego's SeaWorld had plans to turn up the heat for their macaws, toucans and parrots. San Diego zookeepers were also heating rooms for chimpanzees, apes and other tropical animals.
"They'll probably be huddling together and not be in areas where people will be able to see them," zoo spokeswoman Christina Simmons told The AP.
California isn't the only part of the country going through a cold snap. Parts of the Dakotas and northern Montana may not get above zero degrees this weekend, and Chicago may struggle to rise above freezing, weather.com said.
The Weather Channel's Jon Erdman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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